Women Thy Name Is Bravery
Never failing to raise her voice against violence and harassment of women, people got to see the depth of Ruma’s commitment to the cause when a liquor shop was given a license against the local’s wishes in Bhingarpur Gram Panchayat in Khurdha District of Odisha recently.
Ruma Sahoo, a divorced woman, is a ward member of the panchayat, who first started protest against the government decision to open a liquor shop in her village. Ruma gathered all the women of Bhingarpur and all her male and female colleagues of panchayat to start a movement against the liquor shop. They met at endlessly held consultations with higher officials and devised ways and means to sustain their just struggle against opening of the liquor shop in close proximity to the village temple and school. It was truly a feat of sorts that under her leadership the entire Gram Panchayat got together and contributed financially, physically and emotionally in carrying out the campaign for a good 11 months at a stretch. At first, under her leadership, the group started blockage of roads, gherao of the local MLA, wrote application to the Collector-cum-District Magistrate, Sub-Collector and Minister for Excise and discussed with them about the opening of the liquor shop. As a last resort, they even reached the Chief Minister’s office with a written application against the liquor shop. Lastly they did not hesitate to break that liquor shop even in the face of grave threats to life by the bootlegger’s goons.
Similarly, in Madhusahupatana Gram Panchayat in Dhenkanal District, Binilata Nayak launched anti-liquor campaign just after she was elected as a ward member in 2007. In the last few years, the movement has gained great momentum, thanks to the support of all other ward members and women activists under the leadership of Binilata. Liquor menace was a major cause for social strife in villages. “Now our village is liquor free”, says Binilata.
Another brave lady who raises her voice against liquor is Pankajini, Panchayat samiti member of Sabarpally Gram Panchayat in Gajapati District. Indiscriminate sale and consumption of country liquor was rampant in the village and created a big nuisance for young girls and women. Pankajini rose to the occasion and organised all the women and started a campaign against it. This was the first of its kind in a tribal hamlet, where consummation of country-made liquor is still considered to be “customary” affairs, due to which some community members also disapproved of her initiatives. But the women population backed Pankajini. Now women are going to all imaginable lengths to protest their husbands and homes from the evils of the liquor, says 32-year-old Pankajini. Her service to people continues. Be at health, water, cleanliness or liquor consumption, Pankajini made her marks as a successful women leader.
Dipanjali Majhi, the Chairman of Rupra Road Panchayat in Kalahandi District, has also faced many hurdles and difficulties only because she protests liquor sell in her Panchayat. She contested for the post of chairman from a general seat and defeated all seven male candidates by margin of 240 votes. When she filed nomination, one ex-Chairman, a rich liquor vendor, subjected her to threats, abusive language trying to compel her to withdraw the nomination papers. But Dipanjali won the election with the support of local people.
After becoming Chairman, she started her movement against liquor trading. She gathered women to fight against the setting up, selling and distilling of liquor in their vicinity. As a result liquor trading came to an end in many villages and people involved in this trading tried to disrupt her work and created lot of mischief to discourage her. They came in an inebriated state to the panchayat office, threatened and abused her several times. Now she has put up a notice on the panchayat office wall banning the entry of anyone who is drunk. Still her struggle continues. “I am confident of meeting any challenges that might come my way and shall try to live up to the trust that my people have reposed upon me”, she says.
Mamatamayee Panda is a leading anti-liquor activist in Dhenkanal District. Under the leadership of Mrs Panda, a number of rallies against alcoholism were organised not only in the village but also at the block level. As Mamata was honoured with special police power in 2005, it helped her to control anti-social activities including those because of consumption of liquor. To inspire and enthuse her further in her goals, Mrs Panda was awarded with “Nandini Devi Samman 2011”, for outstanding activities.
Challenges and the unyielding social and political milieu have hardened up these firebrand women sarapanchs. But they are committed to fight against the evils of the spirit.